Jennifer Blake on why the tragic life of Mindy McCready makes for a perfect musical

jennifer blake

by Casey Mink

You might know Jennifer Blake from her comedic roles in the films Behaving Badly and Zoolander or from appearing on hit television series including Sex and the City. But Blake has recently stepped out of the comedy genre entirely by creating and producing McCready, a musical based on the life of ill-fated country superstar, Mindy McCready. Blake pulls triple duty, additionally taking on the hefty title role of the double-platinum recording artist, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2013 at the age of just 37.

McCready marks Blake’s debut as the creative force of an entire production, however, she is no ingénue of the stage. In fact, her resume is as diverse as she is, and includes roles such as Hair’s Jeanine at the Bay Street Theater, Jesus Christ Superstar’s Mary Magdalene at The Attic Theatre, and even Caroline (Ma) in Prairie-Oke! at the Cavern Club.

McCready is Blake’s most personal project to date. The bio-musical had its world premiere in 2015 at Los Angeles’ Spirit Studio and Blake is now in the midst of a new string of dates at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, running through June 26. Prior to stepping back into McCready’s forlorn shoes, Alabama-born Blake chatted with Stage Door Dish about why she relates so much to McCready’s tumultuous story, her hopes for the show’s future and the gift that she still has which was given to her by former roommate, Tony Award winner and current nominee Laura Benanti.

What inspired you to create McCready, a musical about the life of Mindy McCready?

There are so many things. Initially it was a desire to do my own project. I had a few ideas that I was keeping track of, just flushing them out. But I definitely knew I wanted to do a musical and I love country. I thought, what kind of show do I want to see? What kind of shows do I love? I met up with my collaborator, Jon Bernstein, in the fall of 2014 and literally [after talking] over coffee for, like, four hours, we walked away with the beginnings of McCready. We did one version of it this time last year, and now this is a bit different—I call it McCready 2.0! It’s a different cast except for me and except for one of the guitarists. It’s in a different space and that changed the script a bit, we cut out of some of the fat, and different character changes.

What is it about Mindy’s life that makes it a good story for a musical?

It’s pretty amazing how much her life is really like a country song. Once I started to see that back in 2014, and look at her body of work and all the songs that she sang, it was just so obvious to me that this could be a musical about her life. Considering the timeline of her life, from when she first started to when she passed away, there are a lot of songs that really carry you along that storyline.

Audiences know you from more comedic roles. What has it been like taking on something so densely dramatic at times?

Oh man, it’s intimidating. Halfway through the rehearsal process last year I was like, ‘What have I done to myself?’ Comedy is kind of my thing. Comedy is what I’m used to and what I’m comfortable with. So, I’m definitely stepping outside of my comfort zone in more ways than one.

Is it difficult for you to reconcile playing such a sad part with your every day life?

It is. I was telling my sister yesterday, ‘I feel like I’m in a funk!’ Nothing serious, but I realized over the first five-hour rehearsal two days ago, where do we go after the devastating scenes? I need to give myself a break. That’s a lot of screaming. It kind of makes me shaky, but it’s all good stuff.  

You created the piece along with Jon Bernstein. Was it a natural decision for you to also take on the title role as well?

We created it so it’s a vehicle for myself. There’s more power in creating your own projects. For it to be original, anything goes. There’s nothing to be like, ‘No, that’s not the way they did it before. No, the audience is going to expect this number.’ There’s a lot of freedom in that.

What makes you feel so connected to Mindy’s story?

We’re both from the south. We both came from religious backgrounds and started singing in the choir. I was a soloist really young, and she was too. She’s very ambitious, and I am too. She loved her small town, and I did too. The similarities are there—none of the bad stuff, I don’t think.

The show has been quite successful and has several dates coming up at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this month. What are your hopes as far as its continued future?

Well, to keep going with it! I’m looking at East Coast places. Nashville would be awesome. I’ve talked to some people in New York that have some smaller Off-Broadway outlets that it would be a perfect match for. I’ve created it so you can just pick up and take it anywhere. We don’t rely on major set pieces, major costumes. It’s literally just pick it up and take it and do it.

We hope you bring it to New York!

Yeah! I don’t want to say anything [yet], but I did just get an email last night that I got very excited about from a theatre in New York.

Is performing on Broadway a goal you have?

Well, yeah I mean I haven’t thought clearly about that because that seems very huge. I think of Beautiful: the Carole King Musical, and there are similar things like that where I imagine they thought, ‘No, this is for Off-Broadway,’ and it ended up being a huge success. So you never know, but right now, McCready seems like a smaller musical. And we’re on a shoestring budget, I’m the one producing it! So it’s all so crazy, crazy.

You used to be roommates with Laura Benanti way back when. What was that like?

We lived on 110th Street and Broadway and we became really tight through a mutual friend when she was doing Into the Woods [on Broadway]. I actually flew out to Los Angeles with them and stayed with them for a week when they were doing a production at the Ahmanson Theatre before it went to Brooadway. We really bonded because we’re both super into music, and she actually gave me my guitar that I still have, my Alvarez Acoustic. We would just sit around and listen to albums and go see shows.

 

For tickets and more information about McCready, visit their website

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